Logic is great for analyzing what went wrong after the event. But it’s not so great for creative and emotional moment-to-moment decision-making. When you’re in the heat of it all, logic is hard to hang on to. Understanding how to move from being dominated by your emotions back to your logical side is critical to success in stressful situations.
You’re negotiating the biggest budget of your career – up to now anyway – and your client Fred says, “We just got a bid that’s half of yours.” Wham! You didn’t even know that there was a competitor involved. Everything just changed!
You’re surprised. All of a sudden you feel your heart beating in your ears. You’re caught off-guard. Perhaps, you’re a little embarrassed, struggling in front of your team who thought (because of what you told them) that you had it in the bag. You’re certainly reassessing your relationship with Fred, who just blindsided you. And, as this all swirls around in your head, you begin feeling a little queasy, too.
You know from experience not to respond in the moment, but it’s hard not to let your disappointment, outrage and perhaps fear of losing, reduce you to your inner child – always a bad idea.
Earlier in your career, the half-price claim would have caused you to focus completely on your price and how to lower it. The client’s claim reframed the meeting from a high-level discussion to down-and-dirty market bargaining. In effect, you’ve just gone from attempting to achieve lofty mutual goals to haggling over a used car. That’s a natural kneejerk emotional reaction to being hit by surprise. It changes everything in a heartbeat.
Instinctively you want to hit back: “What? You said we had the project and that we just needed to work out the details. What’s going on?”
Or, again instinctively, the role-over reaction: “Well, I guess we could take a look at our pricing calculations.”
Both reactions are completely understandable in the heat of the moment. They are analogous to fight or flight. Both are focused on the price objection and lead to the same place: Less money, less respect or, worse, the loss of the project to the half-priced competitor.
I always thought that with experience I’d no longer feel the tug of emotions overwhelming my rational self. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. But I have learned that when the emotions are running hot and heavy, it’s a signal from myself telling me the following: First, what is going on is important; second, I’d better pay attention; third, I need to step back and get a little space on the subject. I may just need to take a deep breath or more time. In either case, it’s the reminder to not react that’s important.
What to do
Because emotions are so powerful, you must prepare in advance to deal with them.
In my experience, the most important preparation is the simple recognition that these feelings are normal and can happen at any time. I call this the “take your head out of the sand” step. I used to simply pretend that these feelings didn’t exist. I’d go bravely into negotiations, actively suppressing even the eventuality that I might react emotionally. The result of this maneuver was surprise and poor reactions every time my feelings did get aroused. Not good. But, by recognizing that my emotions could rage, I prepare myself to logically examine and rationally deal with them when they do.
Second, have a list of questions prepared that are both general and specific that you can refer to in the heat of the moment. A quick glance at your list can give you the needed tip to get past the narrow issue at hand, shift the context and get back in control of yourself and the situation.
Third, remember your accomplishments and credentials. Don’t forget that you were invited to the negotiations because of your skills and achievements. The client needs you to help them – you are an expert, have high standards and always deliver as promised.
What to say
Since the half-price challenge caught us by surprise, it may be that something has changed since we started the conversation. We could ask, “Fred, has something changed since we last spoke?”
All we know is that Fred has cited a half-price competitor after indicating that we were already selected. We could say, “Fred, we’ve put our budget together to achieve what we understood to be your goals. What would you recommend?”
Often our opposite doesn’t have the authority to move forward and does not want to reveal their hidden constraints. “Have I misunderstood something about your goals, Fred?”
Think of these neutral, non-challenging questions as the first steps in unraveling what is really going on. Think of them as a part of your investigation. Make sure Fred understands that you see dealing with his half-price challenge as new information. New information that, after being properly investigated, will lead to a mutually satisfying result.
You can always ask my favorite question, “Fred, help me understand how you’d like to move forward.”
Using your natural, emotional responses to inform a rational response will serve you well at the bargaining table. It sure works for me.